Monday, July 05, 2010

Making a lifetime of memories

I was pretty young when I realized that my memories were important.  It might have come from the fact that my parents were insistent on finding ways for us to remember our childhood.  They told stories, they constantly pulled out photographs, they took a lot of pictures. I have a distinct memory of thinking to myself in my early twenties, that I was awfully young to be reminiscing, but I did.

Saturday afternoon Max and I were driving around a cemetery in Omaha.  It was right across the street from the laundromat and we had ten more minutes before the dryer was finished.  I saw the most interesting gravestones!  They had framed pictures on them of the people whose graves they covered!  Obviously that style of gravestone has been quite common in that cemetery for decades!  Now I don't spend a lot of time in cemeteries, but I have been in a few and Max in a few more as he finds fun things to photograph and we had never seen this before.  Since some of the photographs look to be in fabulous shape after sixty years, we also wonder if there were a stack of them given to the cemetery association to be replaced as the others faded.

Photographs seem to be a great way to remember people, places, special times.  The advent of cheap digital cameras makes taking pictures easy.  There are probably more pictures floating around now than ever before.

I don't know if I have a specific memory of what mom looks like.  I have pictures that are associated with the photographs I own, but the living, breathing Margie Greenwood that was such a presence in my life is not easily called to mind.  What I do have are fleeting images of moments in time.  I can remember some of the different clothes she wore, the lipstick she insisted on wearing before walking out the front door when I was young, standing in the kitchen absolutely soaked to the skin after a water fight, coming into our room in the middle of the night because Carol had just thrown up (it took a few years for the girl to wake up enough to get into the bathroom when she was sick).

Grandma Greenwood is another one that I have a lot of moving images of: her in the kitchen washing dishes, or sitting at her dressing table with her long hair down (it was nearly always in a bun), brushing through it ninety-nine times an evening.  I remember her black heavy shoes and the limp that she walked with.  I remember my Aunt Ruth's blue dress and her rosy cheeks & lush lips when she smiled.

I remember my Dad in khakis that were soaked from the calf down because he'd been wading in the river.

Photos don't bring back these memories, but they are still there.  The photos I have trap different moments in time and when I look at them, they bring back rushes of memories, some so faint that I can't put my finger on them, others so strong that they nearly wipe me out.

I don't remember the sounds of voices.  Max digitized a sermon that mom had given in the 70s in Sigourney and it was the strangest thing to hear her voice after twenty-five years.  My mind had changed and transformed it so that it was barely recognizable.

There are a lot of things I have kept over the years to help me remember events and times.  A few years ago, I started looking through a box of items and I knew that there were things that had once held memories for me, but at some point even those could no longer trigger what it was.  That was really an odd feeling, to know that I should remember something, but I simply can't.

Calendars and journals through the years trigger memories, but even with the words written down, I don't know that all of them make sense to me when I read through them much later.  I wouldn't give them up for anything, though!

It's been really interesting talking to old friends from high school and college again.  They remember things that I don't and once in awhile, they'll open something up in my mind with a quick comment or a story that brings back a rush of information.  Other times, the memory just isn't there, though I know it should be.  One of the most interesting things about this is that my memories sometimes differ so much from my classmates' that I wonder how many of these have been twisted to fit in my view of reality.  Such an ephemeral thing.

Reminiscing has been a part of my life since I was young and will be there for the rest of my life.  Believe it or nor, though ... for the most part the memories I maintain are the good things that have happened to me.  When someone reminds me of a terrible incident in my life, I remember that it happened, but I rarely remember the pain. 

How do you remember?

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